Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Czar by Any Other Name

During these first seven months of the Obama Administration, I’m fairly dizzy from the flurry of activity generated by this president, not to mention his daily appearances on television. The other day I was sitting in a restaurant that had a TV which was set to a news station carrying a speech by President Obama. I wasn’t paying much attention until a man walked in, stopped, and said to no one in particular, “He’s on again?” I smiled in silent understanding.

What is troubling to me is the massive number of issues being undertaken by President Obama and his administration. It appears that he is attempting to bring about all the promised campaign changes immediately with no apparent concern for adequate oversight of these varying plans and policies being rammed down our throats.

For instance, I’ve never seen so many “trial balloons” floated out to the American public as I have by this administration. Trial balloons means information that is purposefully fed to the public to see what will be tolerated. This is part of what I mean by the dizzying effect. I simply cannot keep up with all that is being thrown at us. Whoever is orchestrating this within the administration seems to be very intentional, almost as if they are saying to themselves, “Let’s see how much of this we can get past these people.” Well, they succeeded in getting the Stimulus Bill passed by us, not because we Americans thought it was a great idea in an attempt to stimulate the economy. Most of us understand the principle that says you do not spend your way out of debt. But hey, this was our new president’s first run at “change,” so we gave him a pass.

Now we’re faced with HR 3200, the Health Care Bill in Congress. It is gratifying to see the American people sit up and take notice of this abomination of a bill by letting their voices be heard in town hall meetings all over this great land. Hooray for Joe Citizen!

But I’m still troubled. I sense a certain slight-of-hand going on here. While we’re being distracted by the ebb and flow of the fate of the Health Care Bill, I have this uneasy feeling that there are other things passing below the radar that we’re not aware of for the most part. Some might say I’m being paranoid. Maybe I am. Reminds me of the definition of paranoia sent to me by my brother some years back: Paranoia is a heightened state of awareness.

I was in the local donut shop earlier today to grab a donut and a cup of coffee on my way to the office. As I stood at the counter doctoring my coffee, an elderly gentleman and his wife engaged me in conversation. The man said, “Aren’t you Pastor Roots?” I said, “Yes, sir, I am,” to which he replied, “Figured it was you from the picture in the paper. We read your articles every week. We like’em!” We discussed some of our concerns about our government. I mentioned my particular concern about the appointment of czars and that I was thinking about writing my next article on this subject, to which the gentleman said, “That would be all right by me!” One of those issues that most of us have ignored is the assigning by this president of czars to have oversight of various parts of government. The name “czar” just doesn’t set well with me. I remember my world history well enough that czars leaned heavily toward the enforcement (use of physical force was common) of what they thought was right – and the people be damned. The word czar (or tsar in Russian) derives from the word Caesar from which the word Kaiser was formed. By definition, in our use of the word today, czar means “any person exercising great authority or power in a particular field.” Webster’s Dictionary puts it this way: “One having great power or authority (a Banking czar).” The term czar is sometimes applied generally to a powerful leader or to a government administrator with wide-ranging powers.

As of the first of June, President Obama had appointed thirty-two czars within his administration. More have been added since then I’m sure. This is not the first time this term has been used in American politics. It goes back as early as the 1830s under President Andrew Jackson. However, most every other time this term in American politics was used it was done so in a demeaning, disparaging manner. Ironically, the reason President Jackson used the word was to denigrate his opponent in what became known as the Bank Wars of 1832-36. Jackson’s chief opponent was with the president of the Bank of the United States, Nicholas Biddle, referred to as “Czar Nicholas” by opponents. Jackson was vehemently opposed to the centralized power of the bank. So here we are 175 years later and the current leader of the Free World, President Barack Obama, has appointed a “Bank Bailout Czar.” Does anyone else see the irony in this?

The implementation of a raft of czars may, in the short run, seem to gain control in certain areas of government that are out of control, but in the long run, we have increased the size of government exponentially – a problem we simply do not need to exacerbate.

Here’s a simple formula to keep in mind. The bigger government gets, the more taxes we pay. Conversely, the smaller government gets, the less taxes we pay. As for me, I want less government (particularly less government intrusion into our lives), and I want to see our tax burden reduced significantly. Also, I am not comfortable with czars running our nation. They need to go. Too much power – too little accountability. And finally, don’t trifle with the Constitution! That’s a No, No!

The greatness of our nation has always been in its people, not in the government. God gave us an opportunity to rule this new nation without the fear of autocrats imposing their wills on the people. That’s why we shucked the manacles of political and religious despotism from the British monarchy for the fresh air of freedom in America.

In the immortal words spoken by President Abraham Lincoln at the conclusion of his Gettysburg Address, he said, “That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Voice

I was playing in a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago, enjoying the beautiful weather and the fellowship of other golfers. Following our play, we gathered in the clubhouse for lunch. There were quite a few men I had not previously met seated at the same table with me. Little did I suspect what was about to unfold.

We were all having a wonderful time discussing the various aspects of our golfing abilities (or lack thereof), consuming copious quantities of food and beverage, and generally doing what men do when gathered in such a social setting. After having introduced ourselves, Jim, who was sitting directly across the circular table from me, asked what I did for a living. I mentioned that I was a pastor, but that I had also retired last September from the Navy as a chaplain. Jim mentioned that he, too, had retired from the Navy as a JAG. Yup! Same as the TV show a few years back. JAG, for the uninformed, is an acronym for Judge Advocate General, which in Navy-speak, is a lawyer.

So there we were chatting along nicely when Jim asks me if I had ever run across a friend of his who was a retired Navy chaplain by the name of Dave Schroeder. My ears perked up at that! I told him there was a Chaplain Schroeder (for some reason I had remembered his last name) who called me in January of 1983 while I was pastoring my first church in Fresno, California. He had heard that I was a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve. He asked me if I’d ever considered being a Navy chaplain. I said that it had never crossed my mind. What I didn’t tell him was once you’ve been a Marine, why would you want to be anything less? Anyway, I asked him what the qualifications were. He explained them briefly, at which point I realized I met all of them. I then asked if I could serve with the Marines, to which he said, “Sure.” All right! Now we’re talking! My conversation with Chaplain Schroeder ended with my agreeing to pray about the possibility of becoming a Navy chaplain. The rest, as they say, is history.

My new JAG friend, Jim, said he’d check with his friend, Dave, to see if he was the same Chaplain Schroeder I had spoken with, lo, these many years ago. At that point I dismissed it from my mind thinking nothing was going to come from this.

Sunday afternoon I received a call on my cell phone while attending a birthday party for my son-in-law. The voice at the other end of the line said, “This is Chaplain Dave Schroeder. I understand that I might have been responsible for you becoming a Navy chaplain.” I asked him if he had served a church in Fresno in the early 1980s. He said that he had indeed. Concluding that this was the same man who had called me, I reminded him of our long ago phone conversation. Since I needed to get back to the party, we agreed to meet for a round of golf the following week in Stockton where he had since retired. We could then spend some time together with me filling him in on all the happenings since we had first spoken together.

Over the intervening years I had occasionally wondered about the voice at the other end of the line who had called me that day in 1983. That call had opened a door of ministry for me that I simply could not have fathomed. For the next twenty-five years I would be serving the men and women of the Navy/Marine Corps all over the world, in peacetime and in war.

Did the voice at the other end of the phone line that day realize what events he helped to set in motion? Did he know how it would change the course of my life and that of my family’s? I had wondered at times if he perhaps hesitated that day in reaching for the phone to call me. All chaplains are expected to help in the recruiting process, that’s just part of what we do. He probably had received a call from someone in DC who had my name on a slip of paper and asked Dave to call me sometime. How long did that phone message sit on his desk before he made the call?

God does indeed work in mysterious ways! After almost twenty-seven years I’m grateful that the voice at the other end of the line has been identified. I thank God for Dave Schroeder being faithful to the Lord in making a phone call that would change the course of my life.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Infamous Health Care Bill

Okay – I decided I would write about the Health Care Bill. Last week I addressed this topic, but from the vantage point of the influence that the Blue Dog Democrats have on any current legislation, and in particular, the Health Care Bill.

I guess I need to identify this bill by its actual name: America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, HR 3200. I wanted to read the bill for myself so I began my search on the internet. I did find UPS ready, willing, and able to send me a copy of the bill (or five copies if I so chose!), printed and bound with black letters on a white background. Whoopee! Just what I’ve always wanted.

Not willing to accept defeat, I persevered until I found the bill in its entirety on the internet. Some of the things that I noticed right away were most interesting. For instance, there are indeed 1018 pages to this bill. However, this is not like reading a history book or a medical journal. Remember when you were in school and you had to do a report or write a term paper? You hoped the teacher would allow you to double-space and have wide margins and large print. Well, that’s how Congress prints their bills. It could not be any easier to read! There are roughly 150 words per page in this bill. By comparison, my Bible has an average of 650 words per page. The average number of words on a single page of a paperback Western (which I love to read!) is 250. Now follow me here. If it takes me around five minutes to read a page from my Bible (and I am not a fast reader), then it should take me about ¼ the time to read a page from the Health Care Bill – one minute and fifteen seconds. Multiply this by the 1018 pages of the bill and it would take roughly twenty-one hours to read through this bill. Granted, that’s a lot of reading. But that is exactly what our lawmakers are supposed to do for us! It’s their job! For a representative to complain that they can’t be expected to read the bill because it’s too long would be like me telling my congregation that I can’t be expected to spend hours preparing a sermon each week. It’s ludicrous! It’s my job!

The synopsis of HR 3200, which is printed just below the bill heading, says, “To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending, and for other purposes.” Hmmmmm. That last part makes me wonder what “other purposes” means.

The following is a brief, concise description of the role of Congress in the enactment of the affairs of “we the people.” I gleaned this from the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Congressional business is processed by committees: bills are debated in committees in both houses, and reconciliation of the two resulting versions takes place in a conference committee. A presidential veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in each house. Congress's constitutional powers include the setting and collecting of taxes, borrowing money on credit, regulating commerce, coining money, declaring war, raising and supporting armies, and making all laws necessary for the execution of its powers. All finance-related legislation must originate in the House; powers exclusive to the Senate include approval of presidential nominations, ratification of treaties, and adjudication of impeachments.”

Did you catch this one line? “And making all laws necessary for the execution of its powers.” That, in a nutshell, is the role and responsibility of Congress. They are lawmakers – first, last and always! If a bill were 100,000 pages, it is still the job of our elected officials to read it because they are the ones making the law. I ran across a web site, called, “Let Freedom Ring.” On that site they are challenging Congressmen to sign a pledge to read the bill. As of this writing, 106 of the 535 members of Congress have pledged to read the bill. It breaks down to 98 House members and eight Senators. You may want to go to this site and see if your representatives have made this pledge. Neither of my senators has, nor has any of the representatives in my area.

When you see people gathering at the town hall meetings in their districts throughout August while Congress is on recess, listen to what the constituency is saying, because folks are genuinely upset at the cavalier manner in which this Health Care Bill and other legislation is being handled by Congress.

Here’s some friendly advice for our Congressmen: When you come up with a bill, first read it. If you then believe it is in the best interest of “we the people,” then come out and tell us why. We will listen to your reasoning. Then we will decide for ourselves and we will let you know how we want you to represent us. Why? Because you work for us! So, please, do your job!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Blue Dog Democrats

Strange name, wouldn’t you say? So what’s behind it, and why is the Democratic leadership so anxious to court this particular political group? Who are these people?

The Democratic Blue Dog Coalition (usually referred to as the “Blue Dog Democrats”) have gone through an evolution of names, particularly over the last thirty-odd years. Georgia’s governor, Jimmy Carter, won the presidential nomination in 1976. He’s a real son of the South, to be sure. But not all the Southern Democrats on Capitol Hill appreciated or agreed with his policies which were right out of the liberal playbook. This group of congressmen may or may not be liberal in their views on social issues, but they are definitely very conservative when it comes to fiscal matters – like the budget and the growing debt. Since Congress holds the purse strings for the government, this loose coalition of congressmen wields a considerable amount of power.

When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, a considerable number of these Blue Dog Democrats (called “Dixiecrats” and “Bo Weevils” back then) and their constituency voted for him even though he was a Republican. Why did they do that? Because they believed the financial troubles our nation faced trumped party affiliation. The Blue Dogs generally work to promote positions within the House of Representatives that bridge the gap between “Center right” and “Left-wing” politics. Blue Dogs are considered to be an important “swing vote” on spending bills and as a result have gained influence in Congress out of proportion to their numbers. They are frequently sought after to broker compromises between the Democratic and Republican leadership, generally lending a more conservative character to US politics. This is why you see President Obama and Speaker Pelosi, among others, having separate meetings with the Blue Dogs. In fact, it is primarily because of the Blue Dogs that the current Health Care Bill before Congress is facing stiff opposition.

So who are these folks? Are they all from the South?

Let me offer a list for you of those who are part of this political group serving in the House of Representatives: Jason Altmire (PA-4), Mike Arcuri (NY-24), Joe Baca (CA-43), John Barrow (GA-12), Melissa Bean (IL-8), Marion Berry (AR-1), Sanford Bishop (GA-2), Dan Boren (OK-2), Leonard Boswell (IA-3), Allen Boyd (FL-2), Bobby Bright (AL-2), Dennis Cardoza (CA-18), Christopher Carney (PA-10), Ben Chandler (KY-6), Travis Childers (MS-1), Jim Cooper (TN-5), Jim Costa (CA-20), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-3), Lincoln Davis (TN-4), Joe Donnelly (IN-2), Brad Ellsworth (IN-8), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8), Bart Gordon (TN-6), Parker Griffith (AL-5), Jane Harman (CA-36), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL Co-Chair for Administration), Baron Hill (IN-9 Co-Chair for Policy), Tim Holden (PA-17), Frank Kratovil (MD-1), Jim Marshall (GA-8), Jim Matheson (UT-2), Mike McIntyre (NC-7), Charlie Melancon (LA-3 Co-Chair for Communications), Mike Michaud (ME-2), Walt Minnick (ID-1), Dennis Moore, (KS-3), Patrick Murphy (PA-8), Glenn Nye (VA-2), Collin Peterson (MN-7), Earl Pomeroy (ND-AL), Mike Ross (AR-4), John Salazar (CO-3), Loretta Sanchez (CA-47), Adam Schiff (CA-29), David Scott (GA-13), Heath Shuler (NC-11 Blue Dog Whip), Zack Space (OH-18), John Tanner (TN-8), Gene Taylor (MS-4), Mike Thompson (CA-1), and Charlie Wilson (OH-6).

The only stated policy position of the Blue Dogs is fiscal conservatism. However, they lean strongly in support of national defense as well.

So as you watch the House of Representatives wrestle over the Health Care Initiative, understand that the Republicans are the minority party at this time, and that includes the Senate where the Democrats have a filibuster-proof majority. So if legislation is going to be blocked in either the House or the Senate, a lot of Democrats (read: Blue Dogs) will have to vote against their own party. This is no small task. The way inside politics works in DC is if you’re a good boy or girl for your party, the party big-wigs will support the legislation you want passed for your district or state. Otherwise, you get the cold shoulder, and you will have a dickens of a time being effective for your constituency – which means you probably will not be re-elected. That’s pressure, my friends.

We elected our representatives to go to Washington to represent us. We have high expectations that they will stand upon principle and not cave to their colleagues or special interest groups. There is a certain gamesmanship in Washington politics, which can be brutal. Ask your representatives to stand for what is right – to remain principled. But remember, when they do, you and the rest of your fellow voters in your district have a responsibility to support and re-elect that person.

The Blue Dogs may very well play a deciding roll in this Health Care Bill. Watch and see where your representative stands on this. They are all coming home for summer break, so if you do not like the position they have taken, go to their office and let them know.

Believe it or not, they do listen to you!